Tom Friedman is one of my favorite journalists. His NY Times op ed pieces are insightful and balanced. They seemed to generally reflect the author’s decency and humanity. Little wonder then, that my antennae perked up when Friedman proposed in his April 17th piece that its time to consider a third party presidential candidate. His argument seemed reasonable, if not always persuasive.
America is in tough shape right now. We have serious policy decisions to make to keep our economy from running amuck and our civic compact from breaking apart. Friedman’s argument that, without a respected independent third party candidate to fearlessly and honestly articulate issues and policy options, the level of dialogue in the campaign ahead of us will be cursory and misleading is not an alien one. Voters are now and will increasingly be desensitized by repetitive underwhelming 30 second commercials…maybe a lot longer because of the money now flowing into PACs and Super Pacs. Content, whether in speeches or media buys, likely, and unfortunately, will rarely rise above the lowest common denominator during the campaign.
I share Friedman’s dismay with the current state of affairs passing for political dialogue. But I am not as sanguine as he is concerning the likelihood that a knight or knightess in shining dialogue, no matter how virtuous, can rescue us from the next few months of often meaningless policy chatter. Third party candidates rarely have succeeded in elevating the political dialogue in this country. Their entry into the race often confuses instead of clarifies the public debate. Sometimes the end product of their involvement mutes the ability of Americans to make even marginally thoughtful policy choices.
Lets assume, however, for a minute, that Tom Friedman is on target and his wishes come to pass. After all, he is a Pulitzer Prize winner and Over a Barrel is far (far) behind him in readers.
What would a honest, thoughtful third party candidate say about America’s current dependence on foreign oil and its negative effect on the American economy and security?
First, he or she ( let’s use she to mean he and she. It’s a new era.) would likely debunk both the “drill baby drill” and the “all of the above” policy positions that are now part of the political rhetoric concerning high oil prices.
To meet the truth test, the candidate would be required to say to the American people that
…there is relatively little easy oil left in the U.S. “Drill baby drill” policies would require drilling oil from difficult areas-oil shale , deep water. Drilling would increase environmental risks and would generate relatively high costs at the pump. As, if not more, important, “drill baby drill” policies, even if they were fully implemented, would still leave the U.S. dependent on foreign oil to the tune of nearly 9 million bbls a day.
…The transportation industry and the ubiquitous automobile uses mostly oil and most of the oil we use in America is devoted to the automobile. As a result, an “all of the above” set of policies that grant equal attention to nuclear, coal, solar, wind, geothermal, natural gas, ethanol, oil and biofuels, perhaps, a necessity in dealing with America’s energy problems, makes little sense in dealing with oil dependency. To significantly reduce dependency requires that America grant priority to finding oil substitutes to reduce the demand for oil.
Friedman’s third party candidate would not rest on analysis alone. She would feel duty bound to do what few candidates do today, link solid analysis to policy recommendations.
While I am not clairvoyant, I strongly suspect that a third party candidate would vigorously endorse a national commitment to increase the use of zero emission electric batteries to fuel America’s autos. Yet, to retain her integrity, she would have to indicate that development of a battery powered car that meets the needs of American consumers, regrettably, will take some time. She would indicate that present batteries are much too complicated, heavy, and costly. Their range remains limited. Without sweaty palms, they restrict vacation, family and business choices and destinations. To overcome market resistance, America must design simpler, less pricey batteries and a convenient re-powering infrastructure analogous to gas stations that can power cars for long distances. The candidate would commit to making both happen during her term.
Okay. But what can we do now to reduce oil dependency. After looking at the data and talking to numerous creditable non partisan analysts, Friedman’s candidate, I am sure, would argue that America needs to adopt an immediate doable transition strategy. She would explain clearly how our economy and environment would benefit, if we could begin to kick the oil habit, while we wait for the development of a market friendly electric car. She would urge Americans to pressure Congress to enact Open Fuels legislation immediately. She would indicate that the nation now has the capacity to use several safe, cheaper, and cleaner fuels, including particularly methanol secured from natural gas and natural gas, itself, in our vehicles.
On the stump, the candidate would commit to partnering with the private and non profit sectors as well as academia to quickly resolve possible environmental issues such as fracking associated with drilling for natural gas. She would be bold enough to go “back to the future” and propose something akin to a short term Manhattan project. She would put a group of experts in a room and lock the door until they came out with a solution or solutions. To show how serious she was about time, she would state that she would provide only a few months supply of food and other niceties of living.